Crisis Averted: Our Favorite Retail Catastrophes that Never Happened


Many of the things we used to consider reassuringly normal around the holidays have been upended by the events of 2020. We’re traveling less (46% of US travelers planned less travel this year) spending less (retail sales are likely to drop 10.5%) and worrying more about our health, future and job security as the pandemic predictions stretch out into 2021.

It used to be reassuringly normal for those of us in the customer experience space to reflect on the Black Friday retail season by trading “worst practices” and horror stories. It’s a way of good-naturedly coming together in solidarity over understaffed call centers, misrouted calls, miscommunicated promotional pricing, or third-party systems that just couldn’t keep up with your transaction volume.


But this year, it’s hard to even think the words “what else could go wrong” without cringing and expecting to see the unfortunate answer trending on Twitter. Whether you’re superstitious or not, this feels like a good year to talk about what could go right instead.

Here are a few of our favorite true stories from the retail world:

A Major Retailer’s Gift Card System Goes Down; No Customers Notice

Gift cards continue to be one of the industry’s most popular and most-requested items. According to a National Retail Federation survey this year, about 60% of the 8,899 respondents hope to receive them as a gift. For a high-end retail brand with exceptional name recognition and popularity among its target market, customers seek out gift cards for friends and family specifically to give a gift associated with this brand.

Throughout the course of purchasing, gifting, receiving, and using a gift card, customers frequently call an automated line to check the balance of the card. This simple self-service inquiry is intended to provide a smooth and painless customer experience, as well as saving a large volume of calls from reaching a live agent. However, over the years the legacy gift card system had become increasingly less stable. When it went offline, callers would be routed to live agent queues instead of the automated system—not an ideal situation for callers who did not want to speak to a live agent… or for the contact center’s bottom line.

Fortunately, rather than waiting to be alerted to system downtime by spikes in agent queues or complaints from annoyed customers, Cyara detected the failure and sent an alert to the operations team, which enabled them to bring the system back online within minutes instead of hours. Customers navigating the IVR never had any idea that their CX might have been in jeopardy.

Server Delay + Transaction System Downtime = No Problem

A SEV1 on a Black Friday is likely one of the looming catastrophes that keeps retailers up at night, probably ranking in the top 5 of horror stories no one wants to have the honor of telling. But this is exactly what a large US-based retailer faced at peak hours, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. With hundreds of transactions in progress, the operations team began seeing every fifth customer call carrying an abnormally long balance response, shifting from two seconds to increasingly longer.

This immediately raised a red flag. By looking at detailed information and recordings from Cyara’s monitoring platform, they quickly identified a number of concurrent problems—a server delay on their end, paired with a failure stemming from the third-party credit card processor connection.

Without automated monitoring, a complex error like this could have easily taken hours rather than minutes to assess and resolve, resulting in unrecoverable lost revenue. Instead, the impact was minimal. Many transactions were able to be re-run, and a great many proceeded as if nothing had ever gone wrong.

Configuration Issue Reduces 50% of Call Capacity; 100% of Callers Get Through

Even prior to the unprecedented hold times associated with this year’s unemployment offices and mortgage offices, MarketWatch noted that the average US consumer spends about 10 to 20 minutes on hold per week. (That’s about 43 days of your life, if you #didthemath.) Certain wait times are inevitable, but when calling a business, customers tend to have a far less forgiving tolerance threshold.

Another of Cyara’s large retail customers discovered a potential hold-time disaster that never had a chance to materialize. To help the organization manage thousands of inbound calls and variable peak hours, the organization had implemented a new SIP-based contact center routing platform. However, upon conducting a load test with Cyara to simulate inbound performance, the teams discovered a misconfiguration between their carrier and data center that essentially throttled their call routing by 50%. Meaning, routing would have reached maximum capacity at only about half of the available call volume.

Had this configuration issue gone undetected, the business would have faced serious delays in order processing and support. Instead, all calls routed successfully to available agents who were able to provide expert customer service, exactly as expected.

If you’d like more “feel good” stories like these to keep your retail holiday spirits high, check out the other customer success stories on our website—and learn more about securing your customer CX with the Cyara Platform, even in a year like 2020.

Stay safe!